“Mar-ta! Mar-ta! Wake up, Marta!” Benjamin’s voice was unusually sweet as he sang my name.
“Five more minutes,” I grumbled, clutching my pillow over my head.
“It’s six o’clock. You have practice this morning. If you wait to eat too close to practice, you tend to throw up within the first hour.”
I groaned. “Why the concern for my stomach?” I asked.
“Because you usually try to throw up on me! Not exactly an experience I look forward to repeating.”
“Five more minutes.” I rolled onto my stomach, keeping the pillow flat over my head.
“Fine, be stubborn.”
I was just getting back to sleep. I tried to continue a dream I had been having. I think it was about my mother. I could and couldn’t hear her voice at the same time. I tried to sink deeper into unconsciousness. I might have a chance to hear her voice this time. I felt so close-
“WAKE UP, MARTA! YOU HAVE QUIDDITCH PRACTICE AND I WON’T SHUT UP UNTIL YOU’RE ON BOTH FEET! WAKE UP, MARTA! YOU HAVE QUIDDITCH PRACTICE AND I WON’T-”
“SHUT UP, I’M UP!” I screamed, rolling around and sitting up. Benjamin was kneeling on the left side of my bed. I grabbed my pillow and hurled it at his face.
The pillow traveled through Benjamin, past my open curtains, and onto the bed of Lily Evans. Uh oh.
Lily sat up, blinked, and glared at me. “Really, Kulinski, do you need to alert the whole castle when you wake up?” She threw the pillow back and rolled over, turning away from my bed.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, but I doubt she heard me.
Benjamin looked back and forth between our two beds. He grinned. “I couldn’t have arranged that any better myself.”
“Shut up,” I hissed. I stood and headed for the bathroom. “And give me some privacy.”
“Fine, I’ll just lay out here for a bit,” Benjamin conceded, lounging back on my bed.
“Jerk,” I hissed before putting myself under the shower and fully waking up.
Ten minutes later, I closed the dormitory door gently behind me. I hoped Lily had gotten back to sleep despite my outburst. Next time I see her, she’ll probably spend twice as long yelling at me for the pillow and then the ink bottle from last night.
“Oi! Any girl awake up there?”
James stood at the bottom of the stairs, head arched back to look up the girls’ staircases.
“Just me,” I said.
“Get the other three down here now,” James said. “We’re going to have breakfast as a team before we get to practice.”
“Got it.” I turned and headed to the third year girls’ dorm first.
“Why does James Potter think he can order you around?” Benjamin complained. “You’ve been on the Quidditch team longer than him.”
“He’s the captain, genius,” I said. “McGonagall chose him to be captain over me. I don’t blame her.” I searched the six beds until I came across the two of the three girls James had mentioned. These two had just joined the team this year.
I found Erin Miller’s bed first. I knew it was hers because upon first glance, it looked empty. I finally found her curled up under her thick comforter, indistinguishable from the natural folds of her bedding. Her tiny frame made for the perfect Seeker. When I finally found her shoulder, she asked for five more minutes. I shrugged and turned to get the other girl.
Wendy Lewis was sprawled out all over the top her bed, her head almost hanging over the side of her mattress. Drool stained her pillow, so I just chanted her name softly until she got up. The Chaser rolled off the bed, got to her feet, and promised to wake Erin for me. I took that as my dismissal and left the dorm.
I didn’t even have a chance to open the fifth year girls’ door when Paulina Stevens opened it. “Kulinski!” she squeaked, looking up at me. “I’m up. See?”
“Potter-” I started.
“Another team breakfast?” she asked, rolling her eyes. “Did you wake the third years yet?” She side-stepped me and headed down the stairs. I heard the third years door open and close.
“Want me to trip her on her way down to the common room?” Benjamin asked hopefully, appearing on the stairs.
“No,” I said, walking past him. “I don’t want you to hurt anyone.”
“Now where’s the fun in that?”
Arriving in the common room, I saw two of the three boys on the team already sitting by the fireplace. Paul Stevens just glanced at me before going back to juggling two beater bats. I wondered if his sister knew he had hers. James Potter was watching Paul go at it. But that still left-
“Sirius Black, at your service!”
Two large arms engulfed my shoulders.
“Yahhh!” I screamed. I wiggled myself out of his reach. “Sirius, don’t do that!” I yelled.
But Sirius was laughing too much to care what I was saying.
“At least now you look more awake,” Benjamin said idly, standing just behind Sirius.
“Shut up,” I grumbled.
“Here come the girls,” Paul announced. He tossed one of the bats onto a couch cushion.
Sirius stopped laughing and ran to the side of the room, out of view from the girls’ staircase.
Wendy passed by first. Paulina was next, nearly running to grab her bat and yell at her brother for taking it. When Erin stumbled past, Sirius pounced on her.
“Sirius Black, at your service!”
Erin screamed, although it made more sense for her to be scared. Sirius was at least twice as large as her and his arms seemed to eat her upper torso with ease.
“Two in one morning!” Sirius laughed, punching the air. “This is going to be a great day! Hey you lot, I’ll race you to the Great Hall!” He turned and ran out of the common room. James and Wendy charged after him, laughing. Paulina whacked Paul with her retrieved bat before racing ahead of her brother.
“I think I’ll skip breakfast,” Erin mumbled. She found a chair and curled up.
“Potter will kill you if you don’t eat,” I sighed. “C’mon.”
“I’m too sleepy,” was her mumbled reply.
“Oh, very well.” I picked up the third year and headed for the portrait hole.
Benjamin appeared at the hole, looking at the girl.
“What?” I grumbled.
“Nothing,” he said. “She’s lucky she’s a half blood, that’s all.”
I rolled my eyes. “Care to help with the door?”
“I would consider it if she were a Pureblood. But-”
“Never mind.” I backed out of the door and brought the two of us to the Great Hall.
No one was surprised when I entered the Great Hall with the Seeker in my arms. Of course, it was only us Quidditch players and a few early-risers from the other Houses that were already having breakfast on a Saturday morning. Wendy stopped shoveling food into her mouth long enough to help Paulina and me get Erin seated between them. I then sat on Wendy’s left.
The three boys were conveniently on the other side of the table. Paulina and Paul’s bats were resting next to them as they started talking about Beater tactics. James sat next to Paul but seemed more interested in talking to Sirius about some sort of prank that they and the other Marauders were plotting.
Benjamin walked around behind me and hopped onto the table. Sitting with his legs crossed, he leaned forward. “You just have to start talking to him,” he said. “Ask James Potter about himself. What’s that saying? You have to ‘break the ice,’ or something.”
“Stop being stupid,” I mumbled, taking a bread roll.
“I’m not the stupid one here. It’s very common knowledge that the Potters are Purebloods.” Benjamin smiled, his eyes losing focus. “A truly pure lineage. Now that would make a wonderful union.”
“Ugh, I might have lost my apatite,” I groaned.
I must have said that part too loud. James looked over at me and noticed my empty plate. “Eat up, Kulinski. We have three hours of training ahead of us, and I need everyone playing at their best. Especially our Keeper.”
I nodded and pulled over a plate of hashed browns. I tried reaching for the bananas, but they were out of my reach, so I just gave up.
“Right then,” James said, seeing that we were all eating now. “Alright team, we have our first game against Hufflepuff coming up in three weeks, and we need to fit in all the practice we can. I want to make these practices as close to a real game as possible. We’re at a slight disadvantage this year because almost half our team is new.” He nodded to Paul, Erin, and Wendy. “Hufflepuff, on the other hand, will be starting the year with the same team it’s had for three years. But you three have the best natural ability I’ve ever seen of new recruits to any team-”
“C’mon, James!” Sirius moaned, “you start every speech reminding us on how ‘lousy’ you expect us to play while ‘encouraging’ the newbies.”
“I’m not saying that!” James said. “But I don’t want us getting cocky.”
“He’s just trying to reassure himself,” Benjamin sighed. “A bit insecure, but a vast improvement from your last boyfriend.”
I looked at Benjamin while trying to swallow past the lump that developed in my throat. I was just dumped less than twelve hours ago! My imaginary friend should at least have the common sense I know I needed some time to recover. Being dumped two times before didn’t exactly make the feeling of rejection and inadequacy go away.
“Kulinski? You listening?”
I looked back to James. “Sorry?”
James pointed to the middle of the table. “This plate of bacon represent your hoops. For the first hour of practice, we’re going to work on our Chaser strategy. So you’re going to have to be in top form. Will you be able to focus for that long?”
I nodded. “Of course.” What was James trying to imply?
James turned to look at Paulina and Paul. “During the first hour, I want you two to do your best to knock the three of us off our brooms. We’ll just work with one Bludger for now.”
“I like his strategies better than Connor’s,” Benjamin commented. “I mean, Connor’s idea of practice was making everyone else try playing each position at least once between games.”
“That wasn’t too bad,” I whispered. I kept my eyes focused on the middle of the table, pretending to know what James meant as he pushed a bowl of gravy towards the pitcher of orange juice.
“You were a horrid Beater. And the team nearly lost the cup to Hufflepuff last year because Paulina Stevens thought she was a Seeker for a while and nearly smashed the Snitch into pieces.”
“We still won,” I murmured.
I blinked. “Yeah?”
“You’re fine with the second hour of practice?” James asked.
I blinked again. What else could I do? I had no idea what James had in mind for our second hour today.
“Of course she is,” Sirius said, as if the answer was as easy as breathing. “You’re basically going to treat her as a human target as us Chasers work on the strength of our throws. Not to mention that our Beaters will turn their Bludger on her.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “What’s practice without a few bruises to show Pomfrey?”
“Thank you, Kulinski,” James said to Sirius. “Now, for our third hour of practice-”
“You should pay more attention to James Potter if you want him to start liking you,” Benjamin said.
I pressed my lips together. Benjamin’s not real, I reminded myself. I just had to practice ignoring him.
With his morning speech over, James stood up and signaled for us to head to the Quidditch pitch. Paul and Paulina followed. Those two always walk in perfect step, it was hard to remember that they were a year apart and not twins. Wendy and Erin went next, with Erin trying to get carried to practice.
Sirius stood up from across the table, stretching his arms over his head. “One of these days,” he yawned, “I might get tired of Prongs’s speeches and write them myself.”
I hummed an agreement. Sirius wasn’t looking at me, so I didn’t know if he was talking to me or not. I just made my way to the Quidditch pitch.
I turned and quickly caught a banana that was about to smash into my face. I looked from the banana to Sirius.
Sirius grinned. “I saw you reaching for them earlier. Don’t think I don’t notice these things.”
“Thanks.” I peeled and started eating, Sirius walking in step with me. “What?”
Sirius was still grinning. “I know you can’t vanish anything larger than a dust bunny.”
“Great, does everyone have to point out how much magical skill I lack?” I grumbled, tempted to throw the half-eaten banana at Sirius.
“I’m not saying that,” Sirius said. “C’mon, quicken your step! But Moony warned us that you were dumped by that Ravenclaw bloke last night, so you’re bound to be a bit more distracted than usual.”
I shook my head, studying the banana peel. “I prefer not to think about it,” I said.
Benjamin caught up at that moment, walking to my right. “Though he doesn’t act like it,” he said slowly, “Sirius Black is also a Pure-”
“I’ll see you in the air!” I shouted, dropping the banana peel on the ground. Before Sirius could say anything else, I ran forward towards the large doors and into the cool October air towards the pitch.
“Why’d you have to bring that up again?!” I asked, panting as my legs began to cramp. “Just because you’re male doesn’t mean you have to act as insensitive as one! You come from a female mind!”
Benjamin was still with me, seeming to run with ease. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to,” he warned coyly.
“And what’s- that- supposed- to mean?” I slowed down to barely a jog. My sides were already hurting.
“I’m just pointing out your options,” he said.
“I didn’t ask for them.” I came to a stop, looking up at Benjamin. “I didn’t even ask for you to follow me to Hogwarts!”
“You did right before first year.”
“But not second! Or third! I don’t need you anymore!”
“You will always need me, Marta.” Benjamin reached forward, placing his right hand along the side of my face. “Deep down, you know it.”
His touch was cold. Colder than ice water. Colder than the blizzard I had to play in during my fourth year. His touch seemed to reach a dark hole within me, making it larger. At that moment, I feared what might happen if Benjamin ever did leave-
Benjamin dissipated as I was tackled to the ground under a really heavy Chaser.
“Sirius Orion Black, get off me right now!”
“Oi!” Sirius sat up, frowning. “No use of the full name, Marta Diana Kulinski!”
I winced at hearing my full name. Firstly, because it didn’t flow very well. Secondly, because my middle name is the same name my mum had.
“Fine, fine, Sirius, sorry. You just surprised me.”
“You’re surprised? Try having a conversation with someone and the other person just suddenly runs off.”
“I was just excited at getting to practice before Potter yells at me.”
Sirius shook his head. “Then why stop before you got to the broom shack?”
I opened my mouth to reply. But I couldn’t think of an adequate excuse.
“KULINSKI! SIRIUS! GET YOUR REARS IN THE AIR BEFORE I REPLACE THE TWO OF YOU WITH REMUS AND PETER!”
“Yessir!” I ran to the shack, grabbed my broom, and hopped on.
Benjamin reappeared, leaning against the door frame. “Sirius Black might actually be a better match than James Potter.”
“I don’t date fellow Gryffindors,” I said. I smacked the end of my broom into Benjamin’s shins, mounted said broom, and took off.
Flight! Is there even a better feeling? I raced up into the air, leaving Benjamin and all my social issues down on the ground. If only we could have classes held on brooms, I think I would be happy.
“Took you long enough,” James sighed.
I straightened up on my broom. “Keeper Kulinski, reporting for practice!” I couldn’t keep the wide grin off my face, though.
James’s expression also softened. “Glad to see you’re feeling better. Now where is-”
“Sirius Black, at your service!”
Sirius slamming into James while both were on brooms in mid-air looked more than just awkward. They fell out of the sky by a few meters before James punched Sirius off him and rejoined the rest of the team.
“There’s something wrong with you,” James said, shaking his head back and forth. He looked to Paul and Paulina, who were in the middle of beating each other up with their bats. “Something’s wrong with the whole team,” he grumbled.
I flew up beside James. “Don’t worry, mon capitan, the third years-”
I stopped to watch Erin fly circles around Wendy, trying to knock her off her own broom.
“You’re right, we’re all mental here,” I said, grinning. “So, you had a plan for today’s practice?”
“Had being the key word,” James sighed.
“Leave it to me,” I said. Taking a deep breath, “OI, YOU LOT! FALL IN LINE RIGHT NOW OR I’LL SET SIRIUS ON YOU!”
That got everyone’s attention. Even Sirius paid attention, looking for someone else to pounce.
“Thank you,” James said to me. To the team, “Alright, you know the plan! Paulina, you get the Bludger. Erin, go with her to get the Snitch and Quaffle. Kulinski, pick a side to guard. It’s currently eight ten. We’re running ten minutes late! Well, what are you doing just hovering there?! MOVE!”
I dashed for the nearest hoops as fast as my broom could carry me. As I did, I noticed someone standing on the field far below me. I looked away from Benjamin, instead looking for the three Chasers and which hoop they would try to shoot through first.
The first hour of practice was boring. Personally, I think James was trying too hard. He was so focused in getting the strategy conveyed to Wendy (who was already aware of the strategies), I was able to guard their targeted hoop from every single shot. Erin weaved her way through the Chasers as she went after the Snitch, distracting the three of them even more than usual.
The second hour? I nearly fell off my broom a few times. James and Sirius were especially good at whipping the Quaffle at me, focusing more on the intensity than trying to trick me. Oh, not to mention that Paul whacked the Bludger at me and left a gigantic sore spot on my upper right arm. I did not look forward to looking at that bruise.
By the third hour, I was exhausted. And bruised. And I just remembered that I forgot to pay attention to James’s plan for this third of practice.
Everyone else seemed to know the plan. Paul and Paulina circled each other, exchanging a few words, before Paul joined up with James and the Chasers and Paulina approached me.
“When you’re at these hoops, I’ll be protecting you from the bludger,” she said in an off-hand fashion. “My little brother had the other hoop.”
“Huh?” Merlin, now I wished that I really did pay attention to James’s plans.
Paulina rolled her eyes. “You’ll see what’s going on. Just remember that you have to defend all six hoops.”
“Great vocabulary you have, Kulinski.” Paulina tightened her grip on her bat. “Keep your mind on practice, alright?!” She zoomed off.
“Really wish that my imaginary friend was a mute,” I grumbled. “Nope, don’t worry about him. Quidditch. Focus on the quaffle. Defend the hoops. Got it.”
Wendy had the quaffle as they approached the hoops. She threw it to Sirius, who threw it to James, who threw it to- No, at my right hoop! I blocked the shot and threw the quaffle back to James. To be fair, he had to pass it to either Wendy or Sirius before they’d get another chance to shoot at me.
I was almost at the center hoop when the bludger whizzed past my left ear. “Oi!” I yelled at Paul. “DON’T AIM AT THE KEEPER UNLESS I’M DEFENDING A SHOT! YOU’LL GET US A PENALTY IF YOU DO THAT IN A REAL GAME!”
“Sorry!” Paul shouted back. Well, at least he sounded sincere in his apology.
The Chasers came at me again. Sirius feigned a shot at the left hoop and tried to whip the quaffle into the right one. Fortunately, I was faster. Then Wendy took a shot in the center hoop that I was hovering in front of. But when I returned the quaffle to her, she and the boys turned and flew towards the other end of the pitch.
“Where are they going?” I asked Paulina.
“Get over there!” Paulina yelled. “That was James’s brilliant idea this morning, Kulinski! Three shots and they switch hoops! Now go!” She also took after the Chasers.
I raced my broom to the other side of the pitch, cursing myself again for my lacking attention span.
“Imagine seeing you here,” Sirius commented as I caught up to the Chasers. “I was wondering if you decided to take a nap while we score an easy goal.”
It was then that I saw the quaffle tucked under Sirius’s arm.
“Nah,” I said, “I just like getting your hopes up. So what’d you do with my banana peel?”
“Saving it,” Sirius said. “And speaking of saving-” He hurled the quaffle towards the center hoop.
“Curse you, Sirius!” I yelled, too far away to save the quaffle.
But before the quaffle went through the hoop, the bludger smacked into the larger ball, sending the two objects away from the hoop.
Everyone stopped. The four of us looked back at the direction the bludger came from. Paul hovered there, his bat still extended from his follow through.
“Whoa,” he said as a grin grew on his face. “I did that? Did you guys see that! I blocked the quaffle with my bludger! I’m amazing!”
“Is that legal?” Wendy asked.
Paul’s smile fell.
“I don’t see why not,” James said. “Paul, were you aiming to do that?”
Paul’s smile was now completely gone.
“Prongs, who cares?” Sirius asked. “The kid’s a natural. If he can do that again in a real game, there won’t be any stopping us this year, and we’ll be done hearing you encouraging us and doubting us at the same time!”
“Just get the quaffle,” Sirius ordered.
“And who’s the captain around here?”
“Let me think, I thought it was my best mate, but he always disappears right before practices-”
“I take my Quidditch very seriously-”
“SHUT UP!” I yelled.
The boys stopped bickering and looked at me.
“How many points will Hufflepuff score if you two argue in the middle of a game?” I asked.
“You’re saying you’d let the quaffle get past you in a game?” Sirius asked.
I groaned. “I may be good, no, make that awesome, but I’m not that good. How many minutes do we have left to practice?”
Those must have been the prefect words to get James moving. We doubled our efforts, and eleven o’clock seemed to come too soon. But at 10:59, players in green and silver robes walked onto the field. Wendy just had enough time to take one final shot at the hoops. I just barely missed catching the quaffle as the Slytherin captain called that it was eleven o’clock and we had to be off the field.
“Awe,” I groaned, hugging the handle of my broom as I steered away from the hoops and towards the stands. Maybe I would be allowed the hover here for the rest of the weekend.
“Marta, come on!” Sirius yelled. The other five Gryffindors were already on the ground, leaving for our broom shack. “You don’t want to be hanging around those slimy Slytherins, do you?”
“My grandfather’s a Slytherin,” I said.
“And so is my entire rotten family. Come down to the ground now.”
Bad move on my part. Sirius launched himself off his broom and grabbed hold of my shoulders.
“Ack, what are you doing?” I screamed.
“Getting you to the ground,” Sirius said calmly, a silent duh behind his words.
My poor broom, it tried to keep us airborne. But I’m not exactly the smallest witch in the school, and Sirius is no featherweight either. We landed hard on the frozen earth, but it was a much better landing than if we fell without the broom.
“I’m officially unimpressed,” Benjamin commented. All I could see of him was his shoes and ends of his robes. Merlin, do I ever get just five minutes on the ground without him?!
“Sirius,” I gasped.
“You’re suffocating me.” I’d never had anyone putting their full weight on my chest before. And Sirius was laying perpendicular to me, also on his back.
My lungs felt like they nearly collapsed as Sirius sat up before the pressure released its hold.
“You alright?” Sirius asked.
“I’ll live,” I gasped. “Just need to get to Pomfrey before someone assumes that I’ve been attacked by a fellow teammate.”
“That’s the spirit!” Sirius said. “Well, now that you’re on the ground, care to do me a favor and put my broom away? Us Marauders have a lot planned for this weekend.”
“Whatever. Where’s your broom?”
“I dunno. Bye!” Sirius ran away before I could try my hand at attacking people Muggle-style.
“Maybe we should focus our efforts back on James Potter,” Benjamin said.
I was exhausted. And bruised. And sweaty. I was in no mood to start a fight with Benjamin. Instead, “Just tell me where Sirius’s broom is. Then make sure I get to the hospital wing.”
Benjamin sighed. “Only because I worry about your safety.” Benjamin took my hand and guided me to the fallen broom. He then gently led me back up to the castle. His hand was still cold.
A/N: Sorry for the delay- I blame Benjamin. Still interesting?
Write a Review My Not-So-Imaginary Friend: II: Please Leave All Broomsticks Outside